A Remembrance of Richard “Hish” O’Brien ’13, Dec. 16, 1990 – Feb. 13, 2010
By Jenna Fritz ’13 and Tate Head ’13

Tate: Richard brought out the best in everyone. He understood how to inspire people to become the best they could become. Everything he did he did with passion and he was always encouraging those around him to do the same. “Hish” was so very caring, and supportive, and was always looking for ways to brighten somebody’s day. Someone once said that Richard was so friendly that when they would walk to class together they would have to leave at least five minutes early because Hish had to stop and say hello to everyone he knew. Hish had the incredible ability of spreading love and happiness; therefore, his presence will always be missed and NEVER forgotten.

Jenna: We were apprehensive about accepting this invitation to speak at Baccalaureate as a way to memorialize Richard. We both acknowledge that there are a lot of people who would be qualified and who would enjoy the opportunity to speak. We believe that today is an opportunity to honor his memory and the impact he had on this community. Anyone who knew Richard is qualified to speak about him. And so many people are qualified to speak about Richard and what he meant to them, because he was the kind of person who made everyone feel included, who made friends with everyone he met, and who touched so many lives in so many different ways. So we are here to represent our fellow graduating seniors, those who knew Richard and those who did not, and share what he meant to us and to share his passion for life and the compassion he showed to those around him.

Tate: I have had the fortunate opportunity to play golf at Whitman for four years. I love each of my teammates like sisters and I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had with them for anything. Upon feeling the spirit of Hish overwhelm me, I began to look at golf and my teammates differently. I began to play golf with more determination and passion than ever before. My love and support for my teammates grew to a new height, as well. I believe it was Hish who gave me the strength to climb higher than I ever thought was possible. My junior year on the second day of the Northwest Conference Championship, our team was up one stroke on George Fox. If we were able to keep the lead, then we would qualify for the NCAA Division III National Championship. If we could not, then our season was over. On the 18th hole, probably the most challenging hole on the course, I had a very tough approach shot, as my ball had landed in a huge divot. If I didn’t hit the shot perfectly, then it would be in the water or in the sand. At that moment I knew I just had to go for it and be completely confident in my shot, not letting fear hold me back. This is an example of what you could call a “Hish moment,” a moment of pure confidence and determination, no holding back. That year I became a more dedicated golfer, a more committed leader and, most importantly, a more loving teammate. We went on to win the Northwest Conference Championship for the first time in school history and qualified to play in the NCAA Division III National Championship.

Jenna: I’ve been thinking of Hish moments, of times in my life that I felt like I was living the way Richard lived. I thought a lot about Whitman. Richard was the one that got in early decision and was so excited to be going to Whitman. He was the one who encouraged me to apply, and he was ultimately part of my decision to come. If Whitman was the kind of place Richard O’Brien wanted to go to, then Whitman was the kind of place where I wanted to be. Coming in a semester late during freshman year made me apprehensive. I wasn’t sure if I was going to meet people, if I could find a community or if I could feel like I fit in. I heard stories about Whitman and the friends Richard made; of wild parties raging over actual grass in the basement of a frat house; of professors and classes where people said ridiculous things; of teams and groups and sections of people that sounded awesome. I got to Whitman, and I saw that community. I saw how Richard brought people together and infused them with this energy for life. Instead of having one single Hish moment, Whitman is my Hish moment. The choice to work for the Admission Office, as a way to show my appreciation for being here; the choice to play intramural Flag Football and Ultimate Frisbee – one I was decent at, and one I kind of fumbled my way through; the relationships I’ve built; the friendships I’ve made; and the people that surround me. These have have all become “Hish moments,” where I feel his presence and his impact on my life and the way that I live it. Celebrate life, love life, live life and, above all, live to love. These “Hish moments” are filled with the qualities that Richard possessed; the qualities we admire and strive to include more in our own lives and the ways we want to be more like Richard.

Tate: Although it took me a while to get back on track after losing “Hish,” I stand here today a stronger, more loving person because of the contributions “Hish” made in my life. Upon losing “Hish,” I felt lost. I felt confused. I was angry. Those feelings never went away until my junior year. At the start of my junior year, it was like I had an epiphany. After years of grief, mourning and sorrow, I began to feel Hish’s spirit overwhelm me. I felt his passion. I felt his love. I felt his happiness. I began to live through “Hish.” With the milestone of graduation upon us and many new opportunities to come, I challenge everyone here today to live their lives with more passion, love, support and dedication than they ever thought was possible. Even if you didn’t know Hish or only knew of him, I ask you to use Hish. Use his energy; use his love; use his passion. As you walk forward from Whitman College and into the “real world,” cherish every moment, every step and every breath – take nothing for granted.

Jenna: I know Richard will be sitting with us tomorrow. I know his presence will be felt as we walk up the stage, smile out to the crowd and walk away graduates of Whitman College. And while that presence represents a loss, it also represents the ways that we carry Richard with us everyday. Today is about honoring that force, that influence and that way that Richard lived his life. Today, we acknowledge how the qualities that Richard possessed are the qualities we most look for and appreciate in ourselves and in the people in our lives.